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Difference Between Optometrist & Ophthalmologist

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are eye specialists who have different duties. This article discusses these differences and compares the two healthcare careers in detail.

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Comparing Optometrists to Ophthalmologist

Optometrists and ophthalmologists both specialize in eye care, but they have very different responsibilities. Optometrists are considered eye-care professionals, and their job is mainly to prescribe glasses and contact lenses. Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are specialized eye doctors who handle eye disease and perform surgery. These optical-care careers are compared below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)
Optometrist Doctor of Optometry $106,140 (2016)** 27%*
Ophthalmologist Medical Doctorate or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, & Residency $204,146 (2017)* 20% (all surgeons, including ophthalmologists)*

Sources: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Optometrists vs Ophthalmologists

Optometrists and ophthalmologists both record medical histories, conduct preliminary eye exams, and apply the latest diagnostic technology to analyze patients. Optometrists are licensed health service providers who examine the eyes for vision problems, disease or injury; they also prescribe eye glasses and contact lenses. Optometrists commonly handle annual checkups and give tests for vision correction. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who also work with the optic system, but their training allows them to treat diseases, prescribe medications, and perform complex surgeries if necessary. An ophthalmologist can provide care at all levels, including with the diagnosis of general bodily diseases. Optometrists usually work in private offices, while ophthalmologists often work at hospitals and clinics to perform delicate eye surgery or treat severe medical issues pertaining to a person's vision.

Optometrists

Optometrists are not medical doctors; they are licensed professionals who examine patients' eyes for vision problems and prescribe eyeglasses or contacts as needed. They also monitor for disease while running their examinations. They treat minor eye issues and provide basic eye care. Common eye treatments include eye drops and salves. If they discover a serious problem, they refer patients to medical professionals, including ophthalmologists.

Job responsibilities of an optometrist include:

  • Examine eyes for vision issues, injury and disease
  • Provide eye therapy or prescribe corrective lenses
  • Educate patients on eye issues and care
  • Determine the proper lens settings for eyeglasses

Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors with advanced specialization in optical systems. Typically, ophthalmologists run eye exams to test for diseases like glaucoma or cataracts, though they also test for vision problems and may prescribe corrective lenses. Standard eye surgeries they perform include laser correction, corneal repair and cataract removal. They are also able to prescribe medications for eye disease or any other medical issue.

Job responsibilities of an optometrist include:

  • Administer eye exams and diagnostics
  • Perform surgery to correct vision problems or disease
  • Evaluate for ancillary diseases like diabetes, brain tumors or multiple sclerosis
  • Utilize ophthalmoscopes and other medical equipment
  • Prescribe medications and treatment plans

Related Careers

Opticians, working under optometrists, are trained and tasked to help customers find the correct eye glasses and size them for proper wear. Ophthalmologists are eye doctors dealing with correcting vision; a related career might be as an ophthalmology technologist. These professionals aid ophthalmologists by prepping their tools and instruments.

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